Homeless is not something you find only in big cities. People who are homeless are often easier to spot, and perhaps expected, when walking around a large metro area. But homelessness affects all walks of life in all sizes of towns.
The Monmouth City Council took a brief look at homeless living in its small town at its last meeting. The subject came up during a suggested revision to city ordinances. The result: Another discussion about the lack of resources in Monmouth — in fact, we could go on about the lack of emergency resources for our homeless population in the entire Polk County.
The nearest emergency shelters are across the bridge in Salem. People who are homeless can get help from a lot of places, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., but that doesn’t help keep people warm. It doesn’t give them a place to lay their heads at night. It doesn’t provide shelter for them, their pets, their families.
Monmouth Councilor Chris Lopez nails it on the head: It seems like it’s just moving people from one place to another.
The conundrum facing Monmouth and other cities, including large ones, is how do we handle it? Even that phrase feels cold and inhumane. The people who are sleeping on sidewalks and pitching tents under bridges are fellow humans who have fallen on hard times, who have been unable or unwilling to lift themselves up.
But the fact remains: It is unnerving and perhaps a bit scary to walk past people sleeping on the sidewalk — or inside the library. Public spaces are not shelters nor hotels. Cities who have attempted to legislate against homeless have faced court challenges. Panhandling is protected by the first amendment, for example. The sidewalk, technically, is a public right-of-way — but does that mean people can block that right-of-way?
At the same time, as much as we can, let’s remember people who experience homelessness are just that: People. We can’t force anyone to accept help, But that shouldn’t stop us from offering it.